Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The Delusion of Color Blindness

Blacks and whites don't see racism the same way, which is why we can't solve America's racial woes

Thursday, September 7, 2006
From Time.com

When the Supreme Court reconvenes next month, the justices will take on the case against integration policies in Louisville and Seattle. Both cities, in an effort to overcome residential self-segregation, use race as a factor in assigning students to public schools. Parents of white students have complained that these practices discriminate against their children.

Predictably, the Bush Administration agrees. In a friend of the court brief supporting the Kentucky petitioners, Solicitor General Paul D. Clement wrote, "The United States remains deeply committed to [the] objective [of Brown vs. Board of Education]. But once the effects of past de jure segregation have been remedied, the path forward does not involve new instances of de jure discrimination."

I laughed out loud when I read this.

The effects of legalized segregation have been remedied? Recent studies indicate that schools in many communities are growing more segregated. Just 50% of blacks earn a regular high school diploma, compared with 74% of whites, according to research by the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University and the Urban Institute. Brown was decided more than 50 years ago, but cities like Louisville and Boston were still rioting over busing plans in the 1970s. And is two generations really long enough to counteract 300 prior years of institutionalized inequity?

I suppose I shouldn't be so surprised. It's long been assumed that blacks and whites don't experience race or recall racism in America in the same way. Now there's proof. In a fascinating new study, sociologists at the University of Minnesota asked whites, blacks and Hispanics what caused whites in the U.S. to have an advantage and blacks to have a disadvantage, and how much they adhered to "color-blind" ideals.

Among the findings (which I summarized in another article) were these telling nuggets: First, most whites believe that prejudice and discrimination put blacks at a disadvantage — 75% agreed with that statement, compared with 88% of blacks and Hispanics. But fewer whites say those factors gave white people an advantage (62%, versus 79% of the non-whites). Second, whites are only about half as likely as blacks or Hispanics to attribute white advantage and black disadvantage to laws and institutions. White Republicans in the survey specifically resisted crediting the legal system as important to white advantage.

One of the major questions the researchers were trying to answer, according to Douglas Hartmann, a co-author of the study, was "whether whites see the problem of race as one of white privilege as opposed to African-American disadvantage." And this is no small distinction.

"If one looks at the response patterns for African-American disadvantage, one might conclude that most white Americans would be supportive of policies designed to equalize opportunities for African Americans," the authors write. "It is not until looking at the response patterns for white advantage that we can see that white Americans may not be overtly racist but may, in fact, have very different (if not naïve and simplistic) visions of the social system of race. This is an important finding with implications... for how we understand the policies Americans adopt (or fail to adopt) to challenge [racial] inequities."

That is to say, taken together, these stats shed light on why so many white Americans have a tough time getting onboard with affirmative action. In a Pew poll, 54% of whites said programs to increase the number of minorities in college are a good thing, compared with 87% of blacks.

"That to me is a reflection of how ahistorical and individualist so many Americans are," Hartmann told me. "We understand that history matters but don't want to see how it pervades our culture. It's kind of surprising but also really typical of how Americans can't reconcile race problems. To support affirmative action, you have to have a historical understanding of where these problems come from."

These days, Americans prefer to talk about "color blindness." I hate the term. For one, it's an impossibility. Color is immutable and unavoidable; it's the first thing you notice about someone, whether you register it consciously or not. For another, it's offensive. "It blurs the real problems of jobs and education that communities of color are struggling with," Hartmann says. And just as your race affects how you experience the world, it also determines the perspective that you bring to any group dynamic — and we should value those different perspectives.

Diverse classrooms enhance learning for all students, as the Seattle school officials argue. Perhaps more important, exposure to diversity, racial and otherwise, is in itself a form of education that remains today in too short supply.


Tegeus said...

(not that it matters, but I am not white. I am a racial minority.)

I agree with the bush administration.

we should not distinguish on the basis of race, either for or against.

the govt should be color-blind.

and we should all be color-blind as well.

affirmative action is NOT being color-blind.

"exposure to diversity, racial and otherwise, is in itself a form of education"

the above quote says, "diversity, racial and otherwise,"

this is my stance: racial diversity is superficial. why? because skin color is trivial.

re: the "otherwise" -- ideological diversity is significant and important. why? because ideology is substantive.

what other kinds of diversity is significant?

sex: men and women are significantly different.

religion: religions are significantly different.

so: exposing students to RACIAL diversity is NOT very educational.

but exposing them to other kinds of diversity can be educational.

respectfully submitted, by a big fan of president bush.

The Kool-Aid Mom said...

I am a single mom of three beautiful girls. I am doing the best I can to raise them not allow a person's color to influence their value as a person and friend. This has been something I have had to do purposefully, as my father was racist. And I agree with you that "color blindness" is stupid, because it is the first thing you notice, before a person's sex even. The thing that we have to do is to teach our children and encourage each other to appreciate each person's uniqueness and what life perspective each brings to the conversation, instead of fearing and ultimately hating others.

I am white, and I will admit I see things naively, though not as naively as other whites. And I strongly believe children benefit from diversity in the classroom. In my city, we have a large hispanic population, which translates roughly, to 50% of my children's classrooms. I love this, and wish they took advantage of this more, but other white parents are distrustful, and some are downright mean, about this ratio. They say the mexicans, and they're all mexicans to them and probably illegal at that, are ruining the school. Their children aren't getting the education they need because too much time is spent teaching the mexican kids English. Bull.

As to the idea that the legal system is racially unequal, this may be where my naivety comes in. I don't know all the answers, and some of it may be a "chicken before the egg" arguement, but it looks to me to be socio-economically unequal, not racially. If you have enough money, you can buy an innocent verdict, and without money the system railroads you without blinking. Red, yellow, black or white, as the song goes, is treated the same in that regards. However, there is a disproportionate number of poor who are of a minority group, than white. That could very likely be, and I believe it is, a logical outcome of slavery, segregation and racism that was ubiquitous throughout the country until within the last 30 years. And you still have the caste system in which poor whites with no morals are placed above strong, hard-working, people with strong moral fiber who happen to be black. The Ewells still win over the Robinsons.

This is not going to be overcome simply by throwing people together who don't live in the same neighborhood. It is not going to be overcome with a month of black history. It is not going to be overcome with BET, Jet and Ebony, or the CW network. It will not be overcome by unfair hiring practices that give a job to the unqualified person solely based on racial percentages. All these things lead outside groups to bitterness and a slow burn.

Don't misunderstand me, children are not born with hatred, but learn it in the conversation adults don't even realize they are having. Racial and cultural diversity is great in the class, because it exposes all children to good people and bad people, which have nothing to do with race. And when they grow up and raise their children, they will be less acrimonious towards divergent peoples. And their children, et al. Which is my point, overcoming racism begins with each of us teaching our children to respect and honor one another and to appreciate everyone's uniqueness.